Gandhi gaffe dims Murdoch's Star

TIM McGIRK

New Delhi

When Rupert Murdoch visited India last year, cabinet ministers and political party chiefs queued up to pay him obeisance more befitting a Mogul emperor than a media mogul. But if he returns, Mr Murdoch now faces arrest for insulting the most revered of all Indians, Mahatma Gandhi.

In what amounts to only a gnat-sized nuisance for the global telecommunications conqueror, an arrest warrant was issued against Mr Murdoch on Monday by a Bombay magistrate. He and four people associated with his Star-TV company - beamed in by satellite from Hong Kong - are accused of defaming Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual father of modern India. Bail has been set for the Australian-born billionaire at just pounds 100. The unwanted bad publicity, however, could cause far more damage to Mr Murdoch's wealth.

It was nothing that Mr Murdoch said personally against Gandhi. But as owner of Star-TV, Mr Murdoch is being held accountable by the Indian courts for what is broadcast on network. A racy chat show called Nikki Tonight, which features much tittle-tattle on Bombay's film industry, has set Indians fuming. The hostess, Nikki Bedi, a former actress whose dazzling smile, her critics said, concealed an absence of much brain activity, was gossiping with Ashok Row Kavi, a gay activist and noted Bombay gadfly.

During the fateful programme, aired on 4 May, Ms Bedi egged her guest into repeating scandalous remarks that Mr Kavi had made years before in the press against the much-loved father of modern India. Mr Kavi called Gandhi "a bastard bania". A bania is a Hindu born into the merchant caste, as Gandhi indeed was. But the word also has snide connotations of miser and sharp-dealer. Ms Bedi did not challenge this absurdity - money meant nothing to Gandhi, who lived like a peasant. Instead, the hostess sniggered like a schoolgirl on hearing a dirty joke.

These slurs might have passed into deserved oblivion if a great-grandson of Gandhi had not been watching the show. In his many interviews later, Tushar Gandhi made a point of insisting he was not a regular viewer of Nikki Tonight's salacious show, but he just happened to be channel surfing when he hit upon Mr Kavi's rude comments.

Once Mr Gandhi raised his objections, the roar of outrage that followed was deafening. It led to wild denunciations in parliament not only against Ms Bedi but also Star-TV, with some parties demanding that it be banned from India as punishment for airing such "highly objectionable, distressing and slanderous remarks". It touched a nerve of xenophobia, for many Indians feel that with their country opening up to the West after so many years of closed-off socialism, their traditional values are now under siege from the American music channel MTV and the banal decadence of soaps such as Baywatch, purveyed by Mr Murdoch.

Star-TV's management took the show off immediately and apologised for hurting Indian feelings. After the home minister, S B Chavan, vowed that the government would take action against the offenders, Ms Bedi and her guest left India. Warrants are also out for their arrest. The show's producer is also wanted by police.

Police yesterday were expected to raid Mr Murdoch's Bombay offices and confiscate tape cassettes of Nikki Bedi's final chat show. Mr Gandhi's lawyer, M P Vashi, expressed the fear, however, that the cassette of the offending programme might have been destroyed or gone missing.

Star-TV in Bombay refused to comment on the affair or what Mr Murdoch's response to the arrest warrant might be. "It's being discussed at the highest management levels," said one company source.

No doubt Mr Murdoch will shrug off these defamation charges. Far more worrying for him is an assault on his Indian telecommunications empire by foreign rivals. With its 900 million people, India is one of the pillars of Mr Murdoch's colossal Asian market. However, MTV and Cable News Network International recently signed contracts which allow them to piggy-back on the state-owned television network and link up to an Indian satellite transmitter. This will triple their reach over Indian audiences, leaving Murdoch's Star-TV dimly behind.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected